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How the West was Lost

What could WAC football have been if it was saved? We will never know. But there are a few football programs who will wonder that day-in-day out, for the rest of their existence.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

It was once the most fun league in the nation. And yes, the WAC still lives on outside of football -- but all that remains are double-directions and for-profit schools like Utah Valley State and Grand Canyon providing New Mexico State with competition for the league's auto-bid into the Big Dance.

In 2012, in the final weeks of the last edition of the WAC, message-board fans contemplated what could done to save the football version of the conference. It was the summer of 2012, the Mountain West had gobbled up several teams from the WAC, LA Tech and UTSA were headed to Conference USA, and the upcoming season would be the last for the WAC.

Idaho fans felt like their old rival Montana could save the conference and bring some stability. But Montana wasn't coming without Montana State.  North Dakota State and South Dakota State were on the rise. Cal Poly and Cal Davis could have filled the void left by Fresno and San Jose. Sacramento State and Portland State fit the large-market priority that conferences crave.

Obviously, those moves never came to be. The Big Sky turned out to be a better option for Montana and friends, and the WAC, as we knew, it was lost.

Schools jumped ship. That left NMSU and Idaho, orphans of the WAC, to suffer on. They join the Sun Belt this season, but the distance and lack of any connection to the schools makes the FCS look like a good option -- heck, Idaho has many potential and former rivals in the Big Sky.

New Mexico State lives on an island. Last year, as an independent, they struggled to fill out a schedule. But as long as New Mexico and UTEP will play them in non-conference games, the Aggies can survive in the Sun Belt.

Are NMSU and Idaho destined to be football hitchhikers; thumbing their way from one precarious conference situation to the next? Hopefully things will solidify for them in the near future. In the meantime, NMSU will keep battling Seattle and Chicago State in basketball and and continue to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. Idaho could always risk building a new football stadium and hold out hope for a MWC invite. It would be a costly gamble, but at some point they will have to decide if they are in or out of FBS football. The recent P5 autonomy vote might help them decide.

We used to laugh about a conference that had both Hawaii, Idaho, and Louisiana Tech. Now we have Idaho and Georgia Southern together. Hard to imagine the WAC couldn't have produced something better than that.

The schools that left the WAC are in a better place, with regional conference opponents and better bowl tie-ins. It's a shame that the WAC wasn't able to stay together as a football conference. That's especially the case for Idaho and NMSU. Hopefully they will find their place sooner than later.